Weekly Assignment #5

September 21, 2006 at 6:39 pm (Weekly Assignments)

The first part of the weekly assignment is to ask a question about the reading for this week — a real question; i.e., something you don’t know the answer to. ONE sentence only, please: questions of more than one sentence will not receive credit. I might give an extra point for great questions. Questions are due by midnight on Monday. Late questions will not be given credit.

The second part of the weekly assignment is to answer someone’s question (not your own). You must cite at least one authoritative source. (I will withhold credit for answers without a reference. If you make a sui generis argument, find an authority to support it, or else find an authority to testily contradict.) These answers can be as long as you like; I might give an extra point for great answers. Answers are due by midnight on Wednesday. Late answers will not be given credit.

Submit all questions and answers as comments to this post. Feel free to post other commentary in the comments, as well.



  1. Daniela Newland said,

    Arnold wrote a poem about a “scholar-gipsy,” and he references him (or another gypsy scholar) twice in “Thyrsis”–was the fascination with gypsies a special interest of Arnold, or typical of the Victorian period?

  2. Jake Burnett said,

    To which Sophocles play or plays is Arnold referring to in “Dover Beach”?

  3. Laura Robinson said,

    Was the friendship of Arthur Hugh Clough and Matthew Arnold based primarily upon their professional poetic tendencies, or did their relationship first develop outside of poetry on a personal level?

  4. Laura Robinson said,

    Jake, I’ll take your question.

  5. Sarah Simpson said,

    I’ll take Laura’s question. Mine is forthcoming.

  6. Sarah Simpson said,

    Aside from its connection to the Gypsy-Scholar, what’s the significance of the elm tree in “Thyrsis”? (I’m now curious about trees because of Jake’s question from last week.)

  7. Chris Nelson said,

    I’ll take Daniela’s question. Mine, too, is forthcoming.

  8. Chris Nelson said,

    My question: What was the critical reception of Arnold’s “Preface to the First Edition,” as he seems to take his contemporaries to task?

  9. Holly Ellern said,

    What are some similar themes between “Thyrsis” and other pastoral poems like Milton’s “Lycidas” or Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard”; why might Arnold have chosen the pastoral to eulogize his friend Arthur Clough?

  10. Holly Ellern said,

    I’ll take Sarah’s question.

  11. susanna branyon said,

    I’ll take Sarah’s question. Again here, mine will be coming soon.

  12. Jake Burnett said,

    I’ll take Holly’s question.

  13. Aaron M. Bobick said,

    I’ll take Chris’s question.
    I do know that the ’53 Preface was fairly well received during Arnold’s life and was considered to be one of the better and more openly hostile critiques on the state of (then) modern poetry – comparing and contrasting it to that of the Romantics and, as Arnold would prefer, the Classics. Just HOW well received it was, and by whom, and exactly WHEN it was acknowledged as something of importance, I’m not sure.

  14. Eric Gerson said,

    I had read somewhere that Arnold was considered third-rate to Tennyson, and was aware of this status.
    Was Arnold therefore influenced at all by Tennyson’s “Memoriam” in regards to feelings of inferiority or a desire to write a eulogy with as much “impact” as Tennyson’s work?

  15. Meredith Willis said,

    This question is kind of basic, but nonetheless: could someone post a brief biography of Matthew Arnold, especially if there is any interesting information that can be tied back into the poems we read (other than that on Clough and Arnold’s friendship because Laura has already asked that)?

  16. Daniela Newland said,

    I’ll take Meredith’s question.

  17. Aaron M. Bobick said,

    Why all the ‘ah!’s in Arnold? It’s been bothering me for a while now. I know they fill in spaces in the iambic pentameter, but someone as gifted as Arnold could have found a way around them. Any critical responces to this?

  18. Matt Simmons said,

    Chris and Aaron, look at the “Advertisement” to the Second Edition of Poems–maybe that will shed a little more light on the reception for you Chris, and give you Aaron something more to ponder.
    As to the talk of gypsies, Chris is right on with the dislike of gypsies in Victorian England, and it goes beyond–look at Lawrence’s fantastic novella “The Virgin and the Gipsy” and even something as recent as the movie “Snatch”.
    As to my question–Arnold seems much more unconventional in his approach to meter than other poets we’ve read thus far, his lines are longer, more prosaic. Is Arnold’s approach to meter truly radical, or is he a disciple of some other poet, school, etc.?

  19. Lindsay S. said,

    Hi folks – here’s my question at the last minute. Has anyone come across any Lacanian readings of “The Buried Life”? If so, do tell!

  20. susanna branyon said,

    I know this is not a question about any of the Arnold texts we were assigned, but I think it might contribute to our understanding of the ones we did read. Plus, I’m just curious…
    Have Arnold’s ideas about the interplay of culture and politics (presented in his later work of social commentary–Culture and Anarchy) ever been used as a tool for analysis of his poems or, for that matter, his prose?

  21. Kelly Mahaffey said,

    What were Arnold’s views towards religion, Christian and otherwise, and did his views change throughout his life and in his work?

  22. Eric Gerson said,

    Susanna, I’ll take your question.

  23. Eric Gerson said,

    Susanna, I’ll take your question.

  24. Lindsay S. said,

    Matt, I’ll take your question.

  25. Meredith Willis said,

    Kelly, I’ll take your question.

  26. Eric Gerson said,

    I was incapable of finding a reference to critical analyses of Arnold’s prose to his other prose work. According to William Buckler, Arnold did not use “Culture and Anarchy” as a basis for his prose work such as “Culture and its Enemies,” published in 1866 (Buckler 260).
    However, I did find the essay, “Words from Westminister Abbey: Matthew Arnold and Arthur Stanley” by Eugene Williamson that briefly analyzes the association between “Culture and Anarchy” to his eulogy for William Stanley in “Words from Westminister Abbey.” Williamson states that Arnold intended to create the poem in a manner that lasted through time without appearing “ridiculous,” and one which Stanley, as a critic, would approve (Williamson 749). Williamson further asserts that the descriptions of Stanley as a “child of light,” a “bringer of heavenly light,” possessing “joy in light and the power to spread the joy” is a high compliment from Arnold who had, in “Culture and Anarchy,” vehemently oppossed the idea of “children of light” (Williamson 750). Williamson seems to convey the notion that Arnold’s rejection of his own intellectual convictions is the manner which Arnold uses to express great respect for his dead friend.
    Buckler, William E. “Studies in Three Arnold Problems.” PMLA 73 3 (June 1958): 260-69.
    Williamson, Eugene L. “Words from Westminister Abbey: Matthew Arnold and William Stanley.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 11 4 (Autumn 1971): 749-61.

  27. Sarah Simpson said,

    Every electronic source I searched only mentioned Clough as the inspiration of “Thyrsis,” so I checked out a biography on Arnold, which also told me surprisingly little. I’m sure that if I were to read the entire book I’d learn a lot about their relationship, but here’s what I learned from skimming:
    Scholars derive most of their knowledge about the “complex and intense” friendship between Clough and Arnold from the letters they wrote–actually just from the letters Arnold wrote Clough, as Arnold always destroyed any letters that he received. They became good friends while at Oxford, but officially met at Rugby, where “Clough was mothered by Mrs. Arnold,” who liked him because of “his gentleness, and that unwonted humanity of nature which made him unlike the ordinary schoolboy” (Murray 52). Clough also held the opinion of Dr. Arnold–who cared for him like a father does a son–in high esteem. He was a prize pupil at Rugby and saw little of Matthew Arnold there. But despite being competetive in the literary realm, and despite Clough’s being Arnold’s senior by nearly 4 years, “the correspondence often shows the younger man adopting the tone of one who guides, corrects, or admonishes” (53). Alas, because only half of that correspondence exists, we’ll never be able to “appreciate the fullness of their relationship” (53). But it certainly went beyond their literary ties!
    Murray, Nicholas. A Life of Matthew Arnold. St. Martin’s Press, New York: 1996.

  28. Anonymous said,

    Reply to Chris’s question:
    Who better to comment on Arnold’s criticism than Arnold himself? He had this to say about himself: “‘You see before you, gentlemen,’ Arnold told the Income Tax Commissioners at Edgware in 1870, ‘what you have oftenb heard of, an unpopular author.'” (12)
    “‘…no one knows better than I do how little of a popular author I am,’ he writes equably to a sister in 1874, ‘but the thing is, I gradually produce real effect, and the public acquires a kind of obscure interest in me as this gets to be perceived.'” (12)
    For a different opinion, let’s turn to T.S. Eliot:
    “‘From time to time, every hundred years or so, it is desirable that some critic shall appear to review the past of our literature, and set the poets and the poems in a new order…Dryden, Johnson, and Arnold have each performed the task as well as human fraility will allow’…within the exact scope of Mr. Eliot’s intended meaning only three of the highest rank before the twentieth century” (9).
    “…but it never disturbed him [Arnold] not to be the People’s Candidate. The knowledge that the Victorian public was tepid about Arnold’s gifts may have helped to keep his head above water when the high tide of disapproval of Victorianism rolled in during and after the first world war…” (12-3).
    Allott, Kenneth. “Matthre Arnold.” London, Longmans, Green & Co, Ltd.: 1962.

  29. Daniela Newland said,

    Matthew Arnold was born at Laleham-on-Thames, Middlesex, on 24 December 1822. He was the second child to his parents Dr. Thomas and Mary Arnold and had eight brothers and sisters. He had some health-related problems as a child?when he was six months old, his parents were told that he was “‘backward'” and “‘badtempered'” (qtd. in Hamilton 15). At two years of age, he was prescribed so-called leg-irons that in the end caused both of his legs to be a bit bent. His father was in the habit of assigning nick-names to his children; Matthew was dubbed “Crab” due to his walk, but since he was the oldest son and thus carried a certain authority, his siblings began to call him “Emperor” (Hamilton 17). Apparently, Matthew started his education when he was still very young?about two years old. Hamilton writes that “at the age of five, all three [siblings] were expected to be tackling a programme of studies covering Latin grammar, French verbs and exercises, arithmetical tables and sum, history, geography and scripture” (18). Only about a year later, Greek, German, and Italian were added to their schedule. In the course of his education, Matthew attended Winchester College (which was, incidentally, the school his father had attended), Rugby, and Balliol College in Oxford. (His father died after Matthew entered Balliol.)
    In terms of Matthew?s development as a poet it seems significant, that beginning in 1833, a friendship developed between the Arnolds and William and Dorothy Wordsworth (Hamilton 21). In 1851, he married Frances Lucy Wightman and accepted a position as a school inspector?a task that he held on to for over thirty years. Apart from writing, Matthew enjoyed outside sports?anything from shooting over swimming to fishing. Damrosch cites this anecdote: “He once pranced naked on a riverbank after swimming, prompting a rebuke from a passing clergyman. Waving his towel, Arnold replied: ‘Is it possible that you see anything indelicate in the human form divine?'” (1548). According to the same source, this love of the country influenced much of his best poetry.
    Although he quit writing poetry for the most part after 1850, focusing instead on his school inspector?s job and the reform of public education, he became Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in 1857 (1549). According to Damrosch, “he was the first to lecture in English rather than Latin” (1549). In spite of the positions he held, Arnold did not amass a fortune. In 1883 he was so broke that he tried to put together a Matthew Arnold Birthday Book with his daughter and went on a lecturing tour to the United States. He died of a heart attack on April 15, 1888 (1549).
    Hamilton, Ian. A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold. New York, Basic, 1999.
    Damrosch, David. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2003.

  30. Jake Burnett said,

    The tradition of using a pastoral poem (particularly an elegy) for mourning dates back to Theocritus (remember him from Barrett Browning?) He wrote a number of pastoral poems. Thrysis and Lycidas are both characters in his poems, and their names became commonly used as archetypical figures – usually shepherds or other “country” people.
    Arnold’s use therefore, of the form is part of a very long tradition, of which both Milton and Gray are a part.
    Theocritus, _Idylls_. Trans. Anthony Verity, Introduction and Notes by Richard Hunter. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2002.

  31. Josh Gane said,

    I know this answer may be short, but there are no other questions to be answered. I have searched the web extensivly and have found no Lacanian readings of “The Buried Life.” I will let you know if I hear anything.

  32. Kelly said,

    The only thing that I was able to find referencing Arnold’s feelings towards Tennyson says that Arnold was very sure of himself as a poet and did not fear comparison to Tennyson (or Browning).

  33. Holly Ellern said,

    According to the _Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore, and Symbols_, in folklore the elm tree represents “beauty, charm, courtesy, dignity, graciousness, shade, and stateliness” (506). According to both the poetic and prose _Eddas_, the whole human race comes from the ash and elm trees. The man, Ask, came from the ash tree, and the woman, Embla, was made from the elm tree. In Christian lore, the tree also symbolizes strength. The combination of elm and vine images represents natural sympathy and unity, and a withered elm symbolizes adversity.
    In English folklore, according to _Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend_, the elm “was once known as elven, and was associated with the elves” (343). The life of elm leaves were indications of the seasons for farmers and were often used as signs as to the best time to plant, harvest, etc. In some places in Britain it is even believed that lightning will never strike an elm. The bark of the tree was thought for centuries to possess healing powers and it was used in many home remedies.
    Jobes, Gertrude. _Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore, and Symbols_. New York: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1966. 506.
    Leach, Maria, ed. _Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend_. Vol. 1. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Publishing Company, Inc., 1992. 343.

  34. Sarah Simpson said,

    Thank you, Holly and Susanna! Your answers were very informative. I’ve encountered the elm in a few readings this semester and kept assuming that it related to death (that may’ve just been popular culture creeping in–“Nightmare on Elm Street”). I appreciate the various sources you provided, too, in case I want to do some of my own investigating.

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